Who Coined “Skunk Ape”?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 13th, 2006

Just as I was curious about who coined “blobsquatch,” I’ve been wondering if there’s a clear history to who invented another term in our field.

Who coined the phrase “Skunk Ape”?

If you work your way over to the “Skunk Ape” entry at Wikipedia, you will find a simple answer that someone added there to that question. It is presented, as a fact, under the first subsection entitled simply Name. The following single sentence is given:

The term “skunk-ape” was coined by David Shealy who heads the Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee, Florida.

I’ve known the term “Skunk Ape” has been around a long time, and I sincerely couldn’t imagine that David Shealy would make such a claim. Therefore, I engaged in an exchange of emails with Shealy, and a survey of some old news articles I collected from my early “Skunk Ape” research days, to develop an understanding of this.

Shealy Skunk Ape

I started asking Shealy various questions about this subject in mid-November. Here’s David Shealy’s responsive replies:

It is very nice to hear from you. I will try to the best of my ability to answer the questions you have asked.

My birthdate is September 28, 1963. My first sighting of a Skunk Ape occurred when I was 10 years old while hunting with my brother Jack.

The term Skunk Ape has been used as far back as I can remember. When I was just a boy, most likely 7 or 8 years old a local man by the name of Raymond Wooten would visit our home for dinner. Many evenings the conversation topic was Skunk Apes. So it’s safe to say that the Skunk Ape name has been around for at least 35 years. I do not remember the exact dates of the Davie, Florida incidents where a Skunk Ape supposedly killed some cattle and was fired upon by the Florida Highway Patrol.

The producer of my DVD decided in editing to add the claim that my father coined the name Skunk Ape. Personally I did not feel right about his decision. I take my research very seriously and try not to embellish things unnecessarily. Although my DVD claims to be a documentary and is in many regards I can not honestly tell you my father coined the name Skunk Ape.

Just for the record, my DVD was produced free of charge by a very talented young man and I am very grateful for his contribution and the research dollars I have acquired from it’s sale. Thanks once again for your interest. If I can be of any further assistance please let me know. Keep up the good work.

The next day, I was sent another email from David.

I must tell you I felt a little uneasy last night after retiring to bed. I know I said that I can not honestly tell you that my father coined the name Skunk Ape however after sleeping on it I can not honestly tell you that he didn’t. I really don’t know.

Shealy Skunk Ape

One last email from Shealy, on December 11:

Sorry for the delay in my response. Our internet server is being updated and we are having some difficulties sending emails. Of course you have my permission to use the photo from Florida Living or any other photos or news reels. Thanks for your interest.

So, doing the math, Shealy saw his first Skunk Ape in about 1973; he thinks he first heard the term “Skunk Ape” in 1970 or 1971. Shealy shared openly and clearly about the issue and I thank him for his candid answers.

Wikipedia is wrong (as it happens to be, now and then), and it appears that Shealy never made any claims that he coined the name “Skunk Ape.”

I looked through my archives of articles which are mentioned in the bibliography to my paper “The Occurrence of Wild Apes in North America,” in The Sasquatch and Other Unknown Hominoids, edited by Vladimir Markotic and Grover Krantz (1984).

The series of sightings that rose to the level of national news in 1971, were already describing something being called “Skunk Ape,” but also with a little hint the name had to be explained, as if it was new. For example, the countrywide publication from Silver Springs, Maryland, the National Observer published the article, “Skunk Ape of the Everglades – A Giant Ape That Smells Bad,” on August 16, 1971. Other news items on the encounters and hunt for the Skunk Ape were published in August 1971, from Los Angeles’s Herald-Examiner to the Miami Herald.

Does anyone have earlier examples of the use of the moniker “Skunk Ape,” or know who may have coined the term?

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

16 Responses to “Who Coined “Skunk Ape”?”

  1. MattBille responds:

    I remember what may be the Herald article you are mentioning. It was a fairly long item in Tropic, their magazine supplement, and the writer took a light tone about “abominable big-footed skunk apes.” Growing up in Florida, I think this was the first time I heard it.

    Matt Bille

  2. Unknown Primate responds:

    I first read about the Patterson film in a supplememt of the Sunday newspaper in 1968. That summer, our family took a trip to Key West via the Gulf coast. I remember crossing Alligator Alley, seeing the ‘glades and thinking how wild and remote it looked. A couple of years later, my Aunt moved to Ft. Myers. She called me on the phone (I live in Indiana) and told me about a hairy creature that was known as The Skunk Ape that lived in the Everglades. She knew I’d be interested in it.

    Not necessarily an earler example, but definitely around ’70-’71.

    Thanks for listening.
    The Yoopy

  3. morbo responds:

    I would think a newspaper editor came up with the name. I mean, whats more headline-ish than “GIANT STINKING ‘SKUNK’ APE FOULS UP CATTLE” or something along those lines.

  4. bill green responds:

    hey loren, interesting new article about the florida sasquatch ie skunk ape. im sure we will hear sightings footprints etc from people who live near the everglades or in florida be very patient thanks bill

  5. mystery_man responds:

    “I take my research very seriously and try not to embellish things unnecessarily.” I commend this line of thinking. I think some people *cough* Davis *cough*, could learn from this. This guy really seems to be doing this for the research, and not for making some bucks. With all that has been going on these days, I find it refreshing.

  6. TheLibrarian responds:

    Wikipedia relies upon its readers to help edit its information. It would be a service to them as well as to future readers to bring the error to their attention.

  7. Loren Coleman responds:

    Someone did.

    Apparently one of Wikipedia’s contributing authors read Cryptomundo. I see an addition to the entry there has already been added, with a link to this discussion. Perhaps this will result in more answers to the question of the name’s origin.


  8. longrifle48 responds:

    According to my Bigfoot Casebook, the first Florida account,that mentions skunkape was from 23 may 1977 near town of La Belle (east of Ft. Myers). Who knows for sure, who coined the name? Good question though.

  9. longrifle48 responds:

    Hold the presses, 18 june 1976 (Punta Gorda Daily Herald News) mentions skunkape sighting in Grove City, Florida. The Davie, Florida accounts were from 1969. Who knows, often newspaper stories are in the reporter’s own words, as opposed to what was actually said. Caution for all skunkape seekers! Anyone sighting size 14E, 9 toed tracks, refrain from gunfire, as it is probably just me!

    Have a great Florida day!

  10. wehican responds:

    As a teenager in Miami I remember hearing of the skunk ape on the radio station WQAM by Rick Shaw, a popular rock DJ at the time. Would have been somewhere around 1965 or 1966, 1967 at the very latest. Heard it on my 6 transistor while doing the family dishes.

  11. Georgia_Bigfoot responds:

    David Shealy would take credit for the sky being blue if he thought he could get away with it.

  12. heinselman responds:

    The term dates back to at least 1971. See the typed in AP article below, this is from 8-25-1971 from the Press Telegram in California.

    Skunk Ape mystery; does it roam swamp?

    Dania, Fla (AP) – A former Seminole Indian chief and a noted Everglades photographer say they’ve never heard of the “Skunk Ape” a huge creature a Miami engineer claims to have spotted in Big Cypress Swamp.

    “I’ve never heard of anything like it in any of our legends,” said Betty Mae Jumper of Dania who until June was chairman of Florida’s Seminole Indian tribes.

    “I’ve lived out there in the Big Cypress off and on for a long time, and I never heard any Indian talking about any apeman,” she said. “The Indians on the Big Cypress Reservation know that area pretty well, too.”

    Earl Diemer, chief photographer for the Central and South Florida Flood Control District in West Palm Beach, said he had never encountered any “Skunk Ape” stories in nearly 40 years of working in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp.

    “I’ve been fooling around the Florida wilderness since the 1930’s, the early 30s, and I’ve never heard of the thing,” Diemer said. “I won’t say there’s no such thing, but I’d have to run into it before I’d believe it.”

    H.C. Osbon, an amateur archaeologist and electronic engineer, said Sunday that he and four companions saw a “Skunk Ape” in the Big Cypress last February.

    Osbon said the group encountered the creature while hunting for Indian artifacts, and he estimated its size as 7 feet tall and about 700 pounds. Osbon said also that he made plaster casts of the footprints of several of the animals.

    The amateur archaeologist said the creature got the name “Skunk Ape” because of a bad odor it seemed to give off.

    Diemer said “The Florida black bear might be mistaken for an ape under the right combination of circumstances. Of course when it stands on its hind legs it’s only about five feet tall, but they can look 20 feet tall if the circumstances are scary enough.”

    Osbon said he planned an expedition to capture an apeman next month and offered to “make a believer” of scientists who wanted to come along.

    “If they’re looking for a photographer, tell them I’m game,” Diemer said. “I’d love to photograph something like that.”

    Craig Heinselman
    Peterborough, NH

  13. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yes, everyone mentioning 1977, 1976, or 1971, as noted in the blog above, articles firmly dated back to early August 1971 used “Skunk Ape.”

    Still looking for concrete confirmations, not just remembrances, before the date of August 10, 1971, for the use of “Skunk Ape.”

    Thank you.

  14. airforce47 responds:

    I think I remember hearing the term “skunk ape” while attending altitude chamber training at Macdill AFB in early 1969.

    The best source of military assistance regarding this term might come the public affairs office at Eglin AFB. Eglin is home to a rather large number of specialized units. The PA folks might be able to provide contact sources for old hands in the Combat Air Controller Field or some of the folks in the Army Ranger battalion.

    Interesting post and unusual about there being no legends from the Seminoles about Bigfoot. Most of the other Native Americans have some sort of legend. Later,


  15. Mnynames responds:

    Loren, is the lack of native accounts in the case of the skunk apes part of your reasoning behind speculating that they are post-Columbian arrivals?

  16. discountfred responds:

    I must tell you, David Shealy may be correct in this. He is, in fact, the descendant of early Everglades pioneer C.G. McKinney who coined the phrase “Swamp Angels” for mosquitoes.

    I have little doubt that “Skunk Ape” was coined by someone within the community of southwest FL. Either Ochopee or Chokoloskee, Everglades City, or thereabouts. Could very well have been Shealy’s family.

    There was, in fact, an annual “Skunk Ape” festival around the time amateur archaeologist “Buzz” Osbon had his much publicized “Skunk Ape” encounter in the early 70’s.

    To my knowledge, the festival was held at what is now the Oasis ranger station in the Big Cypress, and was a fund raiser for the local volunteer Fire Dept., which David Shealy’s family and many other local families were involved in.

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